BRADEN RIVER — Craig Page understands that playing baseball at a high level is a privilege.
He remembers volunteering to coach younger baseball players and helping serve Thanksgiving dinner at a local church, while playing at both Florida Community College and Lyon College.
“All of this really opened my eyes to, first of all, how lucky I was to grow up the way I did and also how much of an impact a group of individuals could make on people in a little amount of time,” Page says. “I always told myself, if I was fortunate enough to be a head coach one day, I want my players to experience that great feeling of giving back.”
Now, the first-year Braden River High baseball coach hopes to instill that same sense of pride and willingness to help others in his own team.
This season, Page implemented a community service program, for which his entire team participates in a monthly service project.
“I want to teach them how lucky they are to be able to play the game they love every day,” Page says. “They should be thankful for that and (what better way) than to give back to the community?”
For its first project, Braden River attended Braden River Little League’s Opening Day March 1. During the festivities, players talked with the Little Leaguers about their upcoming season and the keys to future success.
On March 7, the team traveled to Visible Men Academy, an all-boys elementary school, in Bradenton, where they read stories to the students before playing baseball with them.
The experience proved to be more than the players bargained for when they first learned they would not be practicing that day.
“I was hesitant, at first, because it was a Friday, and we were going to be reading to kids,” Braden River junior first baseman Matt Parrill says. “But, once we got there, it went really well. I’m really happy that we went.”
Parrill had a particularly big impact on first-grader Marvin Palominos, with whom he spent the afternoon.
Parrill saw how happy Marvin was to be at school and how much he wanted to learn. Marvin enjoyed listening to Parrill read to him and was even more eager to play catch outside with his new friend.
The energetic youngster refused to let go of Parrill’s hand when it was time to go. Parrill ended up walking the student all the way to the front door until Marvin finally let go.
“The kids were really excited to see us and get out and play with us,” Parrill says. “It was really nice to see. It was a lot of fun.”
The Pirates plan to return to Visible Men Academy again this season, and they hope the students can attend some of the Pirates’ games later this season.
“It’s been different doing community service projects as a team,” Parrill says. “Our coach influenced us (to do that), but it’s been really nice to give back to those who have shown their support for us and the program. There’s more to life than baseball, and you can help people in a positive manner just by going out and volunteering your time.”
Page is looking into organizing a beach cleanup for the team’s next service project.
“I hope they can appreciate how much they have and really learn from it,” Page says. “Their whole lives they’ve been given a lot, so it’s nice to give back to the community. You learn a lot about yourself, and hopefully they’ll continue on once they leave here.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].